The future of flight isn’t just supersonic, it’s hypersonic, and a new British hypersonic engine just aced its tests bringing it a step closer to commercial flight.


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Hypersonic planes, like the stunning Boeing concept I talked about recently, that can take passengers from London to New York, or anywhere else for that matter, in under an hour are a step closer to reality thanks to British technology after engineers at Oxfordshire based Reaction Engines successfully tested their hypersonic engine’s pre-cooling system that allows it to withstand the fierce temperatures associated with Mach 5 speeds of nearly 4,000mph.

Mach 5 is more than twice as fast as the cruising speed of Concorde and more than 50 percent faster than the SR-71 Blackbird aircraft, the world’s fastest jet-engine powered aircraft. But travelling at such an extreme speeds has been hard to achieve up until now because the extreme conditions cause the engine to melt with the air that enters the engine at Mach 5 reaching in excess of 1,000 degrees Celsius.


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Now though Reaction Engines has found a way to reduce that to -150 degrees Celsius in a 20th of a second, and that’s a breakthrough that even Elon Musk who’s trying to develop rockets that transport people around the planet in rockets at Mach 27 speeds would be proud of.


SABRE up close

“This is a major moment in the development of a breakthrough aerospace technology which has seen Reaction Engines’ precooler tested at Mach 5 airflow temperature conditions, smashing through previous achievements at Mach 3.3 temperatures and paving the way for hypersonic flight,” said Mark Thomas, chief executive of Reaction Engines.

The company tested the precooler on its Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine (Sabre),  a hybrid hydrogen air-breathing rocket that has been designed to be fitted on both commercial planes and spacecraft, that I’ve discussed before. The Sabre engine works by chilling the incoming air to zero degrees Celsius using tiny tubes of super-cooled helium with the captured heat then going on to be used to help power the engine. The team is currently trialling parts of the engine in Denver, Colorado, and hopes to begin test flights in the mid 2020s, before commercial flights in the 2030s.


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“The Sabre engine is one of the UK’s most exciting engineering projects which could change forever how we launch satellites into orbit and travel across the world,” said Chris Skidmore, science minister.

The latest test is the culmination of 30 years of work since Reaction Engines was founded in 1989 by three propulsion engineers from Rolls Royce, Alan Bond, Richard Varvill and John Scott-Scott, known as the “three rocketeers”.

Over the last four years Reaction Engines has raised over £100m from public and private sources and has secured investment from BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Boeing HorizonX. The company has also partnered with the RAF to develop hypersonic planes for the military as part of a two-year project.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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